Why Rip Current Awareness Week is so important
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) – We’re in the thick of Gulf Coast Riptide Awareness Week in Alabama and Florida, but why do we have an entire week to talk about it?
To get the answer to that question, I went to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Mobile, which monitors and forecasts rip currents daily throughout the year. The first part of the answer explained very clearly why an entire week was dedicated to rip current awareness.
“Riding currents are the number one weather-related killer here along the northern Gulf Coast,” said Jason Beaman, NWS warning coordination meteorologist in Mobile. “If you look at statistics going back to 1996, from Dauphin Island to Destin, Florida, in the area we serve, we unfortunately lost 130 people to rip currents. So we average about five deaths a year — five deaths a year.
Those numbers jump when you add the rest of the Florida Panhandle beaches. Since 2002, 191 people have died from rip currents between Dauphin Island and Florida’s Big Bend. That’s more than the number of deaths from tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes and floods added together in that same region.
Despite these numbers, rip currents are often not a priority for beachgoers. That’s something the National Weather Service is trying to change – whether you’re a Gulf Coast resident or a once-a-year visitor.
Beaman strongly suggests researching rip currents before venturing onto the beach. This will help you better understand their danger, how to spot them, how to know if one day will be worse than another, and what to do in case you get caught up in them.
If you find yourself in a rip current, the first thing to do is stay calm regardless of your surroundings.
“The first thing is not to panic,” Beaman says. “The best thing you can do is actually let the current take you – as unintuitive as it may seem – let it take you, and then swim parallel to the shore. Eventually you’ll swim out of the current. But it’s also important to scream for help.
If you see someone struggling, call 9-1-1 and seek a rescuer immediately. Never enter water or attempt to form a human chain to save someone caught in a rip current.
So let’s say you’re at the beach wondering what the risk of rip currents will be on any given day. What should you pay attention to? The NWS says wind, storms and tides are all things you should be familiar with.
“If you get a strong east-southeast, south, or even southwest wind that persists for a long time, that generates a lot of wave energy towards the coast, so those waves break the along the coast and, you know, you have the combination of bathymetry of an ever-changing ocean floor, as well as tidal cycles, which combine to sometimes produce these higher threats to rip currents.
But even if you don’t have the ingredients for a high risk rip current day and you see a green or yellow flag on the beach, there are still rip currents. Coastal waters are never completely free of rip currents. This is especially true near piers, piers, passes and coves.
It’s just that on red flag days there are more rip currents. Not only are there more, but the locations of the tears in the water will change several days throughout the day. It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to be in deep water to be in potential danger; knee-deep water can be dangerous, especially on days with red flags flying.
Beaman is keen to emphasize that this is all to educate and prepare, not scare. If you want to know the rip current risk on the beach you are visiting, you can easily find it by clicking here or clicking here.
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